Catch of the year? We may have the front-runner

Taylor's heroics support a stingy Greinke, but offense falls silent

May 2nd, 2022

ST. LOUIS -- As Michael A. Taylor tracked the ball that Cardinals catcher Andrew Knizner hit in the bottom of the fifth inning of the Royals' 1-0 loss on Monday afternoon, he knew two things:

  1. It was hit hard, and it was hit far.
  1. He had a chance to catch it.

Both turned out to be true. Knizner crushed the ball with a 102.6 mph exit velocity, and Statcast projected that it traveled 411 feet as it soared over the center-field wall at Busch Stadium -- and into Taylor’s glove.

Defying both gravity and the wall blocking his path, Taylor made what will likely be a catch-of-the-year candidate when he climbed the wall and snagged what would have been a solo home run.

While the brilliant catch and a gem of an outing from starter Zack Greinke -- who allowed one run in six innings -- gave a jolt to the Royals, the offense couldn’t ride that momentum, getting shut out for the third time this season as Kansas City dropped its fourth consecutive game and ninth of its last 11.

“That’s one of the best catches I’ve ever seen,” manager Mike Matheny said. “The speed that he was going when he got to the ball, the instincts, seeing the wall, climbing, then having the athleticism to find a glove anywhere near it -- you’re not going to see a better play than that.

“When you have a great defensive play, when you have a pitcher out there pitching his heart out, you hear it in there late, ‘Let’s get him some, let’s go. This is where it turns around.’ But [we were] just having trouble putting [hits] on top of each other.”

Greinke dueled with Cardinals lefty Steven Matz for six innings and had two outs in the fifth when he threw a 1-2 fastball to Knizner, who sent it flying toward left-center.

Taylor tracked the ball perfectly, peeking to see where the wall was as he sprinted back.

He knew it would be a play at the wall, but he didn’t plan on getting a foot up. That part was instinctual. He planted his left foot on the warning track and leaped, sticking his right foot about midway up the wall, right in the middle of the National Car Rental ad.

“It just worked out with the spacing, when I felt like I needed to jump, it helped me get a little extra,” Taylor said.

Taylor grabbed the ball before it fell into the bleachers for a home run and held on as he jumped back down.

The catch was jaw-dropping enough to earn a smattering of applause from Cardinals fans, as well as a grin from Greinke, who doesn’t typically show his emotions.

“Just a really good play.” Greinke said, offering another grin postgame. “That was fun to watch. … When he jumped up, I thought it went over the fence. I saw the ball in his glove, so that was shocking. And the play was even better looking at it on TV than in real life.”

Even Taylor, one of the team's more reserved personalities, was visibly excited as he flashed his glove to show he'd made the inning-ending catch.

“It was probably the most excited I’ve been after a play,” Taylor said. “Those aren’t routine plays. You want to make as many as possible, you want to make every single one, but there’s a lot of things that go into it. And I think that’s part of what makes it exciting.”

Taylor, who won his first Gold Glove last season, routinely makes highlight-reel plays, but this was next-level theft, enough for Knizner to shake his head in disbelief as he headed into the dugout.

In 2021, Taylor led all Major League center fielders with 19 defensive runs saved and a 13.3 utility zone rating, according to FanGraphs. He also led center fielders with 15 outs above average, per Statcast. He’s likely on his way to another Gold Glove-winning season in ’22, and that kind of defense is why the Royals extended him last season -- to anchor their outfield defense and make the impossible plays seem routine.

“I still say he’s one of the more underrated outfielders in the game as far as day in and day out -- the jumps, the routes, the efficiency, the speed, the ground he covers,” Matheny said. “It’s impressive. And I think we can start to get spoiled and take it for granted. But the things he does are not normal.”